Yuri Grigorovich: A Life Dedicated to Ballet

Yuri Grigorovich: A Life Dedicated to Ballet

One of the most prominent choreographers of our time, People's Artist of the USSR, author of eight original ballets, who headed the Bolshoi Ballet company for 30 years, celebrated his 95th birthday on January 2, 2022.

Honoring the Maestro

The name of Yuri Grigorovich will stay put in the history of the world ballet and the major Russian theater forever. In honor of the anniversary of the great maestro, a festival of Grigorovich's ballets is underway at the Bolshoi now. Before February 6, viewers have a chance to see the classics: The Nutcracker, Spartacus, Raymonda, Swan Lake and A Legend of Love. During the same time, performances of the hero of the day will be given by the ballet companies in St. Petersburg, Krasnodar, Ufa, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Yakutsk and Seoul. 

His way to the world of ballet

Yuri Grigorovich was born on January 2, 1927, in Leningrad into an artistic family: one of his relatives participated in Diaghilev’s Seasons, the other worked in a circus. The young man chose himself where to study - it was the Leningrad Choreographic School.

After graduating, he joined the ballet company of the Leningrad Opera and Ballet Theater named after Kirov (now the Mariinsky Theater). For over 15 years, Yuri Nikolaevich was a soloist, combining the career of a dancer and choreographer. 

The first ballets

The Stone Flower to the music by Sergei Prokofiev was the first ballet staged by Yuri Grigorovich. The audience saw it in Leningrad in 1957 and received it very warmly.

The famous Soviet critic Boris Lvov-Anokhin wrote about this production as follows: 

“Grigorovich recalled several absolutely obvious and simple, but by that time thoroughly forgotten truths. He remembered that the most expressive thing in ballet is dance, and not common play and pantomime.”

The success of The Stone Flower and A Legend of Love (1961) confirmed that Grigorovich's creative choice was right.

Later, he transferred these performances to the stage of the country's major theater: in 1964, 37-year-old Grigorovich was invited to the Bolshoi Theater as chief ballet master. 

A fairy tale not only for children

1966 is the year The Nutcracker premiered at the Bolshoi. In his production, Grigorovich replaced the choreographic school students with adult dancers. He wanted to show the transition from childhood to adolescence not by replacing children with adult artists but using the expressive means of dance.

From a children’s fairy tale, The Nutcracker staged by Grigorovich has turned into a magical philosophical performance that spectators of all ages are happy to watch.

Ekaterina Maksimova (Marie), Vladimir Vasiliev (Nutcracker) and Vladimir Levashev (Drosselmeyer) used to dance the main parts.

Spartacus: enemies of equal strength

Two years later - in 1968 - the ballet Spartacus to the music by Aram Khachaturian premiered at the Bolshoi Theater.

Initially, Grigorovich chose Vladimir Levashov for the role of Crassus. The character in his performance turned out to be striking and sharp, but according to the choreographer's idea, there had to be an equality between the two enemies played by Levashov and Vladimir Vasiliev, but it didn’t work out.

So, Yuri Nikolaevich invited Maris Liepa to dance Crassus. And the performance succeeded:

“When magnificent Vasiliev and magnificent Liepa collided on stage, it was fascinating as such. Enemies of equal strength, different points of view on the world - that was interesting.”  

The era of Grigorovich - the era of the Bolshoi

In all his productions, Yuri Nikolaevich carefully thought out the dance characteristics for every character. It was through the dance that all the subtleties of the storyline were conveyed. This was the fundamental innovation by Grigorovich if compared with his predecessors. That is why his performances still comprise the backbone of the Bolshoi Theater repertoire.

Original ballet performances (The Nutcracker, Spartacus, Romeo and Juliet, Ivan the Terrible, Angara, The Golden Age) and versions of the classical ballets (Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Raymonda, La Bayadere, Le Corsaire, Don Quixote) - this is an incomplete list of Yuri Grigorovich's creative heritage, his invaluable contribution to Russian and world culture. 

Russian ballet is a living process

Yuri Nikolaevich, who works as a choreographer with the Bolshoi Theater today, says that Russian ballet is not a fossil, but a living, continuous creative process.

Grigorovich supports the young generation of dancers: 

"Today, I can confidently speak about the Bolshoi Ballet company — they are all wonderful! Preparation, school, the desire to take place - they have it all. God grant that all of them succeed. Then the future of ballet, generally, will be assured.”